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I’d like to start this post with a question. Does the word Telford mean anything to you? What if I told you it was the name of a place? If that still doesn’t ring any bells, what about Rotherham? If neither do, then I’m not surprised, though I might be a little bit concerned. If you do know about one or both of these places then you might understand my concern, but for those who might not have heard, I’ll start the post by explaining why two English towns with populations of around 150,000 (Telford) and around 110,000 (Rotherham) are in the news (or actually not as the case may be.)
The situation in Rotherham came to light first, in 2011. It started with an article in The Times which reported that for decades there had been an organized child sex abuse ring in Rotherham. At around the same time as the article an investigation was launched and in 2014, when the full details came to light they were staggering. Wikipedia has an excellent summary, so I’ll turn it over to them:
In August 2014 the Jay report concluded that an estimated 1,400 children, most of them white girls, had been sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 by predominantly British-Pakistani men. British Asian girls suffered abuse that mirrored that of other victims, but there was a reluctance to report it due to the fear of shame and dishonour it would bring on their families. A “common thread” was that taxi drivers had been picking the children up for sex from care homes and schools. The abuse included gang rape, forcing children to watch rape, dousing them with petrol and threatening to set them on fire, threatening to rape their mothers and younger sisters, and trafficking them to other towns. There were pregnancies—one at age 12—terminations, miscarriages, babies raised by their mothers, and babies removed, causing further trauma.
The failure to address the abuse was attributed to a combination of factors revolving around race, class and gender—contemptuous and sexist attitudes toward the mostly working-class victims; fear that the perpetrators’ ethnicity would trigger allegations of racism and damage community relations; the Labour council’s reluctance to challenge a Labour-voting ethnic minority; lack of a child-centred focus; a desire to protect the town’s reputation; and lack of training and resources.
I don’t know about you, but the numbers and the description of the crimes and the failures by the authorities are all, frankly, nauseating. Though perhaps even more nauseating is the knowledge that the first hints of it came to light in the early 90s, meaning that it went on potentially 20 or more years longer than it needed to. And worse still than all of that, would be if Rotherham wasn’t an isolated or unique example, if it was merely the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately there’s every reason to believe that this is the case. For example, just a little over a week ago The Daily Mail published an article claiming that the same thing was going on in Telford, and according to the initial report, the situation in Telford might be even worse.
While the opening spiel of an article like this is designed to be as sensational as possible, this one paints an especially horrifying picture:
‘Girls must be saved from going through this hell’: Call for public inquiry into Telford sex scandal as it emerges up to 1,000 children as young as 11 were drugged, beaten and raped over 40 years
- Gang in Telford, Shropshire, has been sexually abusing teen girls since the 1980s
- Allegations ‘have been mishandled by authorities’ with attackers left unpunished
- Telford’s Tory MP, Lucy Allan, has called for an urgent Rotherham-style inquiry
- Lucy Lowe, 16, was murdered alongside her mother and sister after her abuser set fire to their house. She had given birth to his child at just 14.
In both towns you have organized gangs of men, grooming young girls for sex. While it’s too early in the Telford saga to say that it was exactly the same kind of thing as what happened in Rotherham, I think based on the early reporting, that’s certainly the way the wind is blowing. At this point you may be thinking that two towns does not an epidemic make, that maybe, hopefully these two isolated incidents are all there is, and that maybe when all the facts emerge Telford will end up being not all that similar to Rotherham. Unfortunately, Telford is not the second place it’s happened it’s just the latest place where a child sex abuse ring has been uncovered. Thus far, we have all of the following:
- Rochdale child sex abuse ring
- Derby child sex abuse ring
- Oxford child sex abuse ring
- Bristol child sex abuse ring
- Banbury child sex abuse ring
- Aylesbury child sex abuse ring
- Halifax child sex abuse ring
- Keighley child sex abuse ring
Show of hands on how many people have heard of any of these, to say nothing of all of them? I hadn’t, not until very recently.
I could spend the rest of the post covering the sad facts of each of these scandals, but I’m more interested in what we can say about things generally. And to start with I’d like to talk about the lack of attention paid to these crimes. Hopefully you have at least heard about Rotherham, even if you haven’t heard of Telford or any of the rest. If you have heard of one or more it was probably through a blog like this, or maybe you caught the short mention of Telford in the most recent edition of The Economist. In any event I doubt you heard about these crimes on any of the major news networks (maybe Fox?) And certainly, this epidemic of child sex abuse in England is not part of the what might be considered common cultural knowledge, which is to say someone is far more likely to know something relatively silly, like the fact that UMBC was the first number 16 seed to beat a number 1 seed (which is not to say that wasn’t exciting) or the fact that Khloé Kardashian is pregnant, than they are to know the details of Rotherham, to say nothing of Telford or any of the others. If you have heard about it I’d be interested in where, (feel free to post in the comments) and if you haven’t, well then I assume the lack of coverage is self-evident, but let’s take it a step further and look at the kind of coverage these stories have gotten.
The first question which presents itself: how do you objectively quantify whether something has received too little coverage or too much? And any criticisms on this point are welcome, but one easy way is to just look at the number of search results. Though we still need to establish some kind of baseline for how many search results should be expected. To fill this role, I think I’m going to use MH370, the flight that went missing out of southeast Asia as my baseline. This has the great advantage of being a search term which is unlikely to return any false results. Also it’s widely agreed that it received about the maximum amount of coverage possible. Thus, let’s proceed by rating the amount of attention a news story can receive on a scale of 1-10 with MH370 as a 10. With this idea in place let’s see how Rotherham, the best known of these scandals, does.
- Total number of search results: “MH370” – 13,100,000 “Rotherham” 4,140,000 So just the name of the city with no further filtering is at a 3. If we add children to the search it drops to 955,000 or 0.7 on the scale. Already pretty low, and there’s certainly hits even in the last search that must refer to actual children in Rotherham and not the scandal. (Also I’m aware Google does funny customization on searches, so these may not be the numbers you get.)
- Perhaps our results will be more useful if we just look at results in a specific newspaper, like the New York Times. The search “site:nytimes.com mh370” returns 800 results, and the search “site:nytimes.com rotherham” returns 238 results. Restricting it just by the name of the city is once again a 3 on the scale, if we try and restrict it to just stories about the scandal, then the highest number of hits is “site:nytimes.com rotherham children” (I tried child, grooming, scandal, abuse and rape) with 94 results, or ~1 on the scale. A little bit higher than before, but we still could be getting some extraneous results.
- Still restricting ourselves to the New York Times we could turn to looking at the dates on the stories. If we do this we find that with MH370 we have a couple of stories from 2018 in the first 20 hits, and five from 2017. In the first 20 hits on “rotherham children” the two most recent stories are from 2016, with the vast majority being from 2014. (When the report was released.) Also just in the first 20 hits there are some stories which obviously don’t refer to the scandal, so the 94 from above is almost certainly too high, I’m guessing the 57 from rotherham+abuse is closer, which is once again a 0.7 on the scale.
It’s interesting that the results are consistent from the entire internet to just the New York Times (which is not to say I have anywhere close to a significant amount of data) but even if I had discovered something real, what does it mean?
I imagine (and this will be more important in a minute) that people see what they want to see. That those who want to construct a narrative where Rotherham got plenty of attention will point to the 54 (possibly more) stories which were published by the New York Times and say that was a lot. They might also argue that the reporting on MH370 is a bad comparison precisely because the coverage was so ubiquitous and saturated. (Though one would hope you would see less of that in a sober, respectable paper like the New York Times.) On the other hand those who think the story was criminally under-reported will point to the vast disparity in the two stories, and the lack of anything recent, despite the list of numerous other incidents where essentially exactly the same thing happened, for example, Telford.
Speaking of Telford you may be wondering what the New York Times had to say about the revelation of this most recent child sex abuse ring, if anything. Well unfortunately unlike Rotherham the word “Telford” is used to refer to things other than a town in England. It is, for instance the first name of a Telford Taylor, the principal Nuremberg prosecutor. But I can hardly imagine that you could talk about Telford without mentioning Rotherham, and if you search “site:nytimes.com rotherham telford” there are zero hits. The rest of the scandals I listed above, are mostly similar, the largest number of results I saw was 11, if you add the word “abuse” to cut down extraneous soccer articles (and even then “site:nytimes.com abuse rotherham keighley” is 67% soccer articles, two out of three.)
In any event, if you’re not convinced that reporting on this issue has been lacking, particularly reporting on the obvious pattern of the crimes and scandals, then I’m not sure what else would convince you, so from here out I’m going to assume that we’re on the same page: The epidemic of British child sex abuse rings is under-reported. The next question is, why?
Even if this is the first you’re hearing of things you might be able to guess at least one of the theories. And if you have heard of Rotherham, and the other towns you probably know exactly where I’m going. Many people, most of them on the right, feel that the reason these stories have been under-reported is the same reason why they went on for so long, an excess of political correctness. In nearly all of the towns where these child sex abuse rings existed the perpetrators were ethnically and culturally Pakistani, and in the few cases where ethnicity isn’t mentioned we encounter names like, Sufyan Ziarab or Nasir Khan. In no cases do we have any Bob Smiths, or Oliver Browns involved in the crimes. Accordingly under this theory, police did not investigate these crimes because they were worried about being accused of being racist and of having an anti immigrant bias. Following from that, in a very similar fashion, once the facts did come out, the stories did not receive very much coverage because the largely left-leaning media did not want to provide any more ammunition to people who would use it to support their own racist narratives of immigrants and immigrant crime.
It seems self-evident that on some level something like this was going on, and for many people the smoking gun is the story of when a researcher tried to blow the whistle on things in Rotherham back in 2001:
- “[The researcher] was told she must ‘never, ever’ again refer to the fact that the abusers were predominantly Asian men.”
- “…the [Rotherham] council tried unsuccessfully to sack the researcher after she resisted pressure to change her findings.”
- “Data to back up the report’s findings also went missing”
- Finally, the most ridiculous part of the whole exercise for most people, was when the research was booked into “a two-day ethnicity and diversity course to raise [her] awareness of ethnic issues.”
The question is not whether political correctness and race played a part in ignoring the problem for decades, the question is how much of a part it played. Or to phrase it a different way, how much would the lack of political correctness and racial (over) sensitivity have sped up the revelation of the crimes? Those who take the report I just mentioned at face value will instantly respond that it would have sped it up by at least a decade (2001 as opposed to 2011) perhaps more. But even if you disagree with the figure of a decade, if your answer is not zero, that it wouldn’t have sped up discovery at all. Then you’re admitting some harm came from the ideology of political correctness. It then follows that the only justification is if political correctness and the associated ideology brought some extreme benefit which counterbalanced the extreme harm.
Believe me, I understand that everything is a trade-off, and I suppose an argument could be made in this vein. Perhaps in order to have a society where these child sex abuse rings didn’t happen would require a society that is so racist that horrible racially motivated crimes would have occurred which would have been objectively worse than the systemic and repeated rape and abuse of thousands of girls, some of which, I’ll remind you, were as young as 11. I have to say, I have a hard time imagining what horrible racially motivated crimes would have taken place in 1980s England without political correctness, and I have an even harder time accepting that they would be so bad as to balance out what actually did happen.
I guess if a lack of political correctness would have only hastened discovery by a few days, or a month, then perhaps. But we have prima facie evidence that it would have hastened things by a decade, and at anything close to that amount of time, I can’t see any potential way in which the benefits of political correctness outway the harms.
Which means that basically the only way to not place the blame on political correctness is for it to have made no difference, and to be fair, there are some people who argue exactly that. That political correctness and everything under that umbrella had no effect in Rotherham. That for whatever reason police and the authorities are always slow about researching the sex abuse of children. And political correctness has nothing to do with it. An example of this argument:
If someone says “in Rotherham the police ignored evidence that these people were assaulting children, for politically motivated reasons”, then if I’m responsible I will go check how often the police ignore evidence that people are assaulting children for absolutely no reason at all and eventually I will probably conclude that police just frequently ignore evidence of serious crimes.
I have encountered communities where everyone constantly talked at Rotherham in exhausting detail but they had absolutely no idea about any of the other cases I mentioned.
I mean that. They just had no idea. You ask them “can you name a csa case where there isn’t evidence that the police could have acted ten years sooner than they did?” and they are genuinely surprised that in the case of Larry Nassar, in the case of Jerry Sandusky, in the case of Jimmy Saville, in the case of Catholic clergy, the police could have acted ten years earlier and didn’t. They’ve heard about Rotherham, and only Rotherham, and because their sources were so carefully selective in which horrible things they let their readers learn of, the readers end up thinking that something uniquely [sic] went wrong in Rotherham, instead of realizing that police just don’t actually typically do anything about evidence of sexual abuse of children until years and sometimes decades after they could have.
This is an interesting, and on the face of it, powerful rebuttal, so let’s consider it for a moment. To begin with, every one of the people he mentioned was in a position of power, and all of the abuse happened, and continued for as long as it did, because the perpetrators used that power to not only enable the abuse but also to avoid being held accountable for it. Thus I would argue that police do not wait for “years and sometimes decades” to act in all child sex abuse cases, but rather that this wait only occurs in cases involving powerful individuals. If this is not true, can anyone point to a similar csa case not involving powerful individuals which also had a very long gap between the first evidence and the actual public revelation? You may be tempted to immediately reply “Rotherham”, but hold off on that for a second. You may also be tempted to ask for any example where the police did not wait. There is a very well known example of this, which I’ve already mentioned in this space. An example where not only did the police and authorities act immediately, they acted in advance of actual information, and in fact went so far as to manufacture evidence. I refer of course to the Day-car sex abuse hysteria of the 80s.
As far as I can tell, the big difference in this situation is that the daycare owners had very little power. Leading me to again suggest that power is the critical component. But what does this refinement suggest about Rotherham and the rest?
It suggests that the Rotherham perpetrators were in a position of power. You might think this is a ludicrous assertion, but it is precisely what those who complain about Rotherham, those “communities where everyone [is] constantly [talking about] Rotherham in exhausting detail” are saying. That the reason Rotherham went on for so long is that the perpetrators had power, they had power based on their status as a racial minority. That when one of the abusers told one of the victims that he would not hesitate to use the “race card” if the police tried to take action, that he was threatening to use that power. The same way Nassar used his power as a famous doctor, the same way Sandusky used the power of Penn State football, and the same way Weinstein used his power as a famous producer. Most people can’t imagine that minorities would have the same kind of power, but I would argue that this is exactly what was going on in Rotherham and the rest of the cities. This is also part of the reason why there has been less reporting than one might expect. It’s simply dangerous to criticize the powerful.
Beyond this I’m not sure what else to say. To be honest the stories are almost too terrible to contemplate, too terrible to process. Particularly if they end up being exactly what they appear to be. Irrefutable proof that cultural sensitivity and tolerance have gone too far, and at terrible cost. But here at the end I just have one question. This list of ten towns, is it the end, or the beginning?